CHILE’S PRESIDENTIAL election is still 14 months away. But it is striking that the early front-runners in the opinion polls are the mayors of three districts of Santiago, the capital: Joaquín Lavín, a mildly populist conservative; Evelyn Matthei, a more orthodox one; and Daniel Jadue, a communist. Their prominence is a sign that in Chile, where disillusion with the political class was behind a huge wave of protests a year ago, mayors are less discredited than parliamentarians or ministers.

With the exception of Brazil, long a genuinely federal country, Latin American government has been highly centralised. According to a database prepared by the OECD, an intergovernmental research group, spending by subnational governments in Latin America is equal to only 6% of GDP, compared with

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